Mira Silverwood

22 Formerly Illegal Acts That Are Now Permissible

Just as opinions, moral values, and habits change throughout the centuries, so have the laws of our society. While many legal frameworks have stayed the same, a few were considered too ridiculous or immoral to continue beyond our grandparents’ generation. Here are 22 things we can now do that were once against the law. 

Go Shopping On Sunday

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Sunday might be a day of rest, but for many of us, it’s a golden opportunity for some retail therapy. But until recently in some states, visiting the shops on Sunday was seen as a criminal offence. These “blue laws” forbade people from participating in many activities, including selling and buying goods. 

Take Birth Control

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Nowadays, it’s a woman’s right to use birth control and contraception, as it should be, but it wasn’t always this way. One hundred years ago in the US, it was considered obscene and profoundly illegal to teach women about family planning. 

Marry Interracially 

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Until as late as 1967, interracial marriage was banned by Southern states, despite being made legal in California. This was one of history’s most despicable laws and anyone caught offending could face one to five years in a state penitentiary. 

Drink Alcohol

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During prohibition, liquor’s illegal status made it all the more tempting, with speakeasies and organized crime flourishing. These days, drinking alcohol isn’t just legal, it’s commonplace and usually encouraged. 

Women Can Vote

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The 19th Amendment allowing women to vote was a huge cause for celebration. Women’s rights have come a long way since the 1900s, and true equality is closer than it once was. Unburdened by laws against voting, women can have a say in each election that goes by and have far more agency in general. 

Dance

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From weddings and parties to nightclubs and living room competitions, people can dance as much as they please. But in the 19th and 20th centuries, dancing was regulated more than you’d expect. Publicly dancing with your partner, especially if they were the same sex, was illegal. 

Consume Marijuana 

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Since the start of the 21st, many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana for recreational use. Such behavior would’ve been unthinkable in the previous century. 

Drink Alcohol on Election Day

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To prevent booze-fuelled election day parties, authorities in previous centuries banned drinking on this day altogether. Nowadays, we can drink as much as we like before welcoming a new president, whether this is in celebration or to drown our sorrows. 

Practice Witchcraft 

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More people than ever are proclaiming themselves as witches or admitting to practicing a spell or two. While harmless nowadays, witchcraft was historically punishable by death, such as in the Salem Witch Trials

Marry Someone of the Same Sex

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After centuries of opposition and discrimination, same-sex couples can now get legally married in America. For a long time, this was considered impossible, with gay marriage bans restricting LGBT couples everywhere.  

Read Banned Books

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People often forget that once upon a time, we couldn’t read any books we wanted. In previous centuries, reading banned books could lead to legal trouble, especially if they were considered immoral or obscene. 

Get Divorced

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It’s a sad truth that not all marriages work out, and sometimes divorce is best for both parties. Now, it’s easy to legally obtain a divorce, but this was notoriously hard in the 20th century. Couples had to find proof of abuse or adultery, and if they couldn’t, had to remain married. 

Cross-Dress

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Expressing our gender identities is far easier now than in the 20th century. Now, cross-dressing is celebrated for the most part, but there used to be laws against drag and it’s public display.

Women Can Wear Trousers

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It seems hard to imagine a world where women couldn’t wear trousers and were instead forced to wear skirts and dresses. This restrictive way of life was enforced as recently as the 20th century. More places than you’d think would see women wearing trousers as a legal offense. 

Live Together Before Marriage

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Living with someone before marriage is the only way you can truly get to know them, and is common practice in the modern world. Before being made obsolete, many states enforced cohabitation laws, forbidding couples from sharing a space before tying the knot. 

Swear in Public

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Swearing in public can be offensive in many contexts, but it hasn’t been against the law for some time. For many years, “profane swearing” was banned in most states alongside other disorderly behavior. 

Play The National Anthem in Public

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Sounding the iconic Star Spangled Banner in public is entirely legal, while not commonplace. In the previous century, playing the US national anthem could get you into legal trouble, depending on the state you were in. 

Fortune Telling

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The spiritual practice of predicting the future has had a tumultuous past and was illegal for a long time. Visiting your local fortune teller could once result in legal action, but this isn’t the case in today’s world.

Gambling

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Sports betting and online gambling are hobbies for some, and an occasional rendezvous for others, especially since it became legal. The history of gambling has evolved over the years, and it was prohibited by state law until recently. 

Play Pinball

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Considered a suspicious form of gambling, pinball was illegal in most states between the 1940s and 1970s. Now a popular feature in retro-themed bars, playing pinball has made a comeback after being heavily regulated. 

Women Can Own Property

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It’s easy to take for granted that women can now enjoy property rights. There’s nothing to stop them from taking out a mortgage, buying a piece of land, or buying a new apartment. But this was not the case for centuries in the US. Women weren’t allowed to own their own property unless a male guardian was in charge of the situation. 

Buy a 15.5-ounce Beer

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It was once illegal for Floridians to buy a 15.5-ounce bottle of beer, under what is one of the strangest laws to date. Thought to be easier for taxation purposes, this strange law was reworded in 2001, and locals were able to buy whichever measurement they liked. 

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